Why do PR and marketing lead culture, service, and sustainability initiatives?

While blogging on Scott Berkun’s interview with Grant McCracken, this statement by Scott prompted a comment and some reflection: Corporate PR departments often talk about their “company culture”.

That makes sense on one level: public relations and marketing groups should communicate to the wider world about company culture, sustainability programs, community service initiatives, etc.  However, that statement prompted a question: why are PR departments so often the voice and face of the corporate culture to internal audiences? 

I can get that you’d like experienced and strong communicators to craft and deliver the message.  However, I wonder if executives behind such initiatives realize that when marketing/PR is the face and voice of change, most employees believe (or feel) that it is all for show.  This risk would be particularly high in sectors where the marketing culture would not traditionally be close to the culture of line management.  Perhaps it is a limitation of my experience, but I’ve found that the most effective corporate cultures had messages that were transmitted and reinforced via line management or peers, not professional communicators.

Would any of my PR-savvy readers care to share some tips/examples on mitigating these risks?

Leveraging non-business disciplines

Back in the day I made an abortive attempt at getting a History PhD (I’m still paying for the loans).  That experience was not a total waste: my advisor gave me the best career advice I ever received (go to business or law school) and I learned how to do “real” research.

I also gained an appreciation for the insights of all disciplines, which brings me to a Scott Berkun interview (here) with the anthropologist Grant McCracken (blog here).  

No real comment other than to say that the interview and the links therein are well worth a read.

IT Capability Checklist for non-IT leaders

I liked this checklist from Susan Cramm (article here, Word checklist here) because it’s targeted at managers who are rotating through IT.   Obviously, it is a critical rotation in industries where IT can be a differentiator.   But getting involved with — never mind leading — technology projects can be a bit daunting.

Leaders who have worked in these roles do so with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. On the positive side, the prospect of charting new territories is incredibly stimulating. On the negative, it’s also frustrating – navigating IT can be like traveling in a foreign country without an interpreter or a guidebook.

The aura of the dawn of the computer age persists in the software business.  Many IT professionals insist that what they do is beyond the ken of normal humans.  Not so… IT is amenable to rational analysis [unlike my blog].  Cramm says it perfectly here:

It doesn’t have to feel this way. IT is just like any other business function – challenged with developing and delivering products and services to demanding “customers” in the context of constrained resources and changing competitive, organizational and technological landscapes.

More on how to deliver bad news

This summary of a Harvard Business Review article — “A Better Way to Deliver Bad News” — outlines a useful process for avoiding unnecessary conflict.  I won’t recapitulate the restrictive vs. open framing approach, but I have a few comments:

  1. I have a visceral reaction to the framing jargon.  I understand it is derived from the communications theory, but if you’re going to leverage this approach I’d use “feedback” or “communication” rather than “framing”.
  2. The two biases are critical to understand why this technique is effective.  Avoiding a “narrow”, “binary”, or “frozen” approach prevents you from missing cause/effect relationships, projecting yourself onto the situation, or putting your colleague in a win/lose corner.  When coaching on open feedback, I’ve found it useful to have a personal anecdote of when a restrictive approach failed.
  3. It can appear artificial and sometimes I’ve been called on it (“You’re trying to criticize me without criticizing me”).  When that happens, I simply describe the technique I’m using and why I’m doing it.   That anecdote I mentioned earlier comes in handy too…

Hat tip: The Intelligent Leader Management Tip of the Day

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